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When it comes to working out, there’s simply no exercise more challenging than a burpee. Which, if you think about it, is pretty interesting. Unlike weight lifting exercises, burpees are performed with nothing but your body weight and yet, they’re far and wide considered to be the best of the best (or the worst of the worst, depending on which side of the coin you're looking at) for strengthening your body and increasing your capacity to exercise. But with that being said, proper form is extremely important. Any fitness professional will tell you that the quality of your repetitions is more important than the quantity of repetitions, and burpees are no different. Improper form can lead to a multitude of injuries, and can make the exercise less-effective. So ahead, we're sharing exactly how to do burpees, their benefits, and more.
What Are Burpees?
Burpees are a compound exercise that use only your body weight. The move involves a quick transition from standing to lying on your stomach by placing your hands on the ground, jumping your feet back into plank position, and then laying on your stomach. You then do the inverse of these moves to stand back up.
As Tone It Up trainer Chyna Bardarson explains it, a burpee is a two-part exercise going from a push-up to a jump squat. Tone It Up trainer Ariel Belgrave tacks onto this, noting that since burpees are a compound exercise, they hit almost every major muscle group in your body. “In a single rep, you are working your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, core, chest, shoulder, and arms,” she explains. “The high-intensity of burpees will also leave your body burning calories even after the workout is done (aka the afterburn effect).”
As with most exercises, there are a few different twists on the traditional burpee, like adding a punch when you stand up, adding a jump when you stand up, or adding a push-up after you lay down. All are effective workouts, and all are still burpees!
The Benefits of Burpees
- They get your heart rate up. Thanks to the fast movement across multiple planes (read: from standing to lying down), burpees are a fab form of cardio. This, of course, means that the often-complained-about exercise works wonders to get your heart pumping. “This cardio kick will not only strengthen your heart but helps reduce blood pressure, too,” Belgrave says.
- They make you stronger. Thanks to being a compound exercise that works just about every muscle in your body, burpees are full-body moves that will make you stronger from head to toe. “Because you are engaging almost every major muscle group at once, burpees will help you build strength and gain body definition,” Belgrave explains. “This strength will help you perform better at everyday activities, such as carrying groceries, lifting laundry, rearranging furniture, or even playing with your kids at the playground.”
- You can do them anywhere. Unlike some exercises that require expensive equipment or loads of room to perform them, burpees can be done virtually anywhere. “It doesn’t matter if you are traveling, don’t have access to a gym, or working out outdoors—all you need is your body to do them,” Belgrave exclaims.
- You can add them to any workout. Since burpees are a full-body movement, they can be added to any workout. “Burpees are adaptable and dynamic, which makes them a perfect addition to any workout,” Belgrave says. “Whether you are doing a HIIT session, finishing up a sweaty run, or getting in a yoga flow—you can add burpees into your workout.”
- Perfecting form takes time. Burpees are known for being difficult and a big part of that is because, since they use just about every muscle in your body, form can fluctuate until certain areas of the body are strong enough to support the movement. But remember: Practice makes perfect and the more burpees you do, the stronger you’ll get, and the better your form will become.
- Burpees are prone to causing lower-back pain. According to Bardarson, lower back pain is a common drawback of burpees. “A specific injury to be mindful of is harming your lower back,” she says. “Poor form can lead to lower back pain if you allow your hips to sink when jumping back into the push-up position.”
The Right Way to do a Burpee
As with most exercises, there’s more than one way to do a burpee. That said, below you’ll find two sets of step-by-step instructions. Pick your poison. And, remember, you can find more variations, as well as workouts supplemented with burpees in the Tone It Up App.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on the ground and hop your feet back to come into a high plank position.
- Lower your chest all the way down to the ground.
- Next, press back up and hop your legs forward to meet your hands.
- Come up to a squat position and hold as you jab left, then jab right.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Place your hands on the ground and jump your feet back to reach a high plank position.
- Lower all the way down.
- Press back up to plank and jump your feet under your center coming up to a low squat.
- Next, jump your feet out wide as you rotate 90 degrees, reaching your arms to both sides for balance. “This is your surfer stance!” Belgrave exclaims.
- Jump back to center and repeat on the other side.
How to Modify Burpees When You're Getting Started
If you find burpees to be insanely difficult, don’t sweat it. These are definitely an advanced exercise, and forcing your body to perform more than what it's trained to do is a quick way to injure yourself. If you're a beginner, then first of all, welcome to your fitness journey! You'll be amazed at what your body is capable of doing after a relatively short amount of training time. Secondly, keep in mind that you can modify any exercise better fit your lifestyle and fitness level. Belgrave says that one way to make burpees easier is to remove the jumping movements and move slower through the steps until you master the form. So bend over and put your hands on the ground, then walk your feet back into a plank position one at a time, then lower down and do the opposite on your way back up. Once you're confident in your footing and capacity to perform this exercise with proper form, try to move a little faster.
Bardarson says another way to simplify the exercise is to drop your knees when doing the push-up portion of the exercise, or take it out entirely and pop right back into a high plank. Easy-peasy. (Or, at the very least, easier.)
How to Level Up Your Burpees When You're Ready
On the other end of the spectrum—after you’ve mastered your form and become a burpee pro—you may be in search of ways to elevate your new favorite move. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do so.
“My favorite ways to level up my burpees are to add resistance bands either right above my knees or towards my ankle,” Bardarson says. “This will maximize those booty gains!” Another advancement is to add a plyo box or step, or try them using a single leg—but make sure your balance is 100 before opting for those advancements. “You can also replace the 'regular jump' with a jump variation (like a star jump or tuck jump),” Belgrave adds.